*Please note that the following Retro Review will feature strong language.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day, what an adorable little misfit game you are…You hold such a dear place in many-a-gamer’s hearts, especially given that now you retail for upwards of £200 boxed on eBay…And why? Why does Conker inparticular hold such a grip on many gamer’s nostalgia-goggles? Is Conker nothing more than a one-hit wonder? Has Conker’s Bad Fur Day helped to loosen the constraints on videogame censorship? Let’s find out, shall we?
Conker’s Bad Fur Day, originally developed by Rare back at the very end of the N64’s lifecycle in 2001; this was an incredibly bizarre time within the N64’s lifecycle, given that the Playstation 2 had already released at this point, with games outshining and outperforming old N64 games like Jak and Daxter and Dark Cloud; at this point, Conker was already outdated by years, considering that the PS1 had just completed its’ entire 7 year lifecycle – Conker released a meagre 7 months before the N64’s last ever game, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, was released, leading to an extremely limited number of copies ever being produced.
Being a new IP released at one of the worst possible points of a console’s lifecycle, Conker went on to sell only around 770,000 copies, as compared to Rare’s premier franchise, Banjo Kazooie, that sold 2.20 million on the N64 alone. Given this, you could instantly call Conker’s Bad Fur Day an instant commercial failure; surprisingly, however, Conker received critical acclaim, reaching high review scores and noteworthy awards, often even matching and even excelling the review scores of Banjo Kazooie – So why did Conker sell so poorly?
The sole blame here is due to the lack of marketing on Nintendo’s side, the intended target demographic, and the period of which the game was released. At this point, larger retailers had stopped nearly entirely stocking N64 games since the Xbox and PS2 were the hot new thing – This was one of the main things that went on to slam against Conker’s expected sales, given that nobody would stock it, or even knew of it’s existence. Going back to my point about a lack of marketing from Nintendo, it was commonly known that Nintendo nearly outright refused to publish the game, only releasing it under their publishing name due to Rare’s previous commendations to the Nintendo family with Donkey Kong and Banjo Kazooie; this game was a topical first for Nintendo, whom had never tackled, produced, or even marketed a non-family friendly game before this point. What went to follow were a meagre pitter of adverts and media appearances, with Nintendo supposedly just wanting to rather shovel this game under the carpet than to be proud of the end result.
When Conker released in 2001, it was mainly to a niche, adult market who were looking for more comedic games to break up the bombardment of simulation, shooter and adventure games being released at the time; however, it’s focus on relevant pop-culture, good, comedic writing and effective use of offensive, crude and often tongue-in-cheek jokes caught the attention of the masses once online media platforms such as YouTube started to be released within the modern digital age – Conker’s Bad Fur Day is now an extremely commonly livestreamed / let’s played game, mainly due to how outrageous and offensive the game can be – Loaded to the brim with gaming, movie and TV references, with entire levels often based off of movies such as The Matrix and Saving Private Ryan, Conker’s Bad Fur Day certainly isn’t one to simply point at these references and laugh, but to show the good….And the bad of each…
The game itself is extremely similar in nature to a game like Banjo Kazooie – You play as the titular protagonist Conker, running, jumping, and floating around an interactive platforming world; Conker comes pre-packaged with a melee attack too, and is able to use various “Context-Sensitive” pads in order to equip new weapons, use things like turrets, or perform new abilities – This helps to break up some of the monotony of just running around and smacking crap, and does lead to some…Interesting encounters.
However, the whilst the gameplay or graphics haven’t really aged all that well, one thing that has aged well are the humour and characters, from Birdie the alcoholic, drugged-up scarecrow to the infamous and charismatic Great Mighty Poo, to the simple-natured busty Sunflower and even a pile of animated cash all bring a much needed sense of soul and character to the game, making you feel like you’re watching a late night version of the Animaniacs or Looney Tunes; each one of the characters in this game are tied with an appropriately good voice actor, with their dialogue patterns and motives all being less than innocent.
However, one popular topic that frequently comes up revolving around Conkers’ popularity always comes full circle into a discussion about censorship – Originally when released, Conker’s Bad Fur Day was completely uncensored, with every “Twat”, “Shit” and “Bastard” being spluttered out in an enthusiastic fashion – When Microsoft obtained Rare, and the rights to the franchise, they decided to rerelease an updated version of Conker’s Bad Fur Day on the Xbox 360, but this time with nearly every curse word censored out of the game in place of “Comedic Beeps”, a change that was actually requested by Rare, despite popular opinion. Fans obviously tore the game to shreds, calling it an insult on what the original title great – Whilst it’s true that Microsoft certainly didn’t do well trying to censor the game, it’s interesting to see what Nintendo may have done in the same position, especially given the time of the game’s release.
One thing, however, that some people may not think of is the prolonged effects of Conker’s uncensored rampage on the gaming industry had on publishers, especially Nintendo themselves – One could certainly see Conker as being a way to introduce Nintendo to the world of third-party, non-family friendly titles, which may have lead them to develop and publish titles such as Eternal Darkness, or even to convince them to be more lenient with maturer titles in the future, given the surprising case of Bayonetta 2 for Wii U, where Nintendo actually refused the initial, toned-down, de-sexualised designs for some of Bayonetta’s Nintendo-based outfits, and requested Platinum Games just to go mad and do whatever they wanted; same as me, many people all across the gaming industry, fan or developer, were definitley not expecting Nintendo to just say “Yeah sure do whatever; make the outfits sexier”, to a game under their wing, let alone an exclusive, in a prolific franchise such as Bayonetta.
And, if I’m being honest, I feel that we have Conker to thank for that.
So, thank you Conker, for being the sweary little shit that you are. May you live on in our hearts.